Lawyers to deliver closing arguments in trial of 2 police officers charged in Elijah McClain’s death

Oct 9, 2023, 9:12 PM

FILE - A makeshift memorial stands at a site across the street from where Elijah McClain was stoppe...

FILE - A makeshift memorial stands at a site across the street from where Elijah McClain was stopped by Aurora, Colo., Police Department officers before family members hold a news conference, July 3, 2020, in Aurora, Colo. Lawyers are to deliver closing arguments Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in the trial of the first two police officers to be prosecuted in the 2019 death of McClain, a Black man who was put in a neck hold and pinned down by officers in the Denver suburb of Aurora before paramedics injected him with a powerful sedative. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DENVER (AP) — Lawyers will deliver closing arguments Tuesday in the trial of the first two police officers to be prosecuted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a Black man who was put in a neck hold and pinned down by officers in a Denver suburb before paramedics injected him with a powerful sedative.

McClain was stopped while walking home from a convenience store on a summer night, listening to music and wearing a mask that covered most of his face. A 911 caller reported him as suspicious and the police stop quickly became physical with McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist seemingly caught off guard, asking to be left alone. He had not been accused of committing any crime.

Prosecution witnesses testified that the sedative ketamine killed McClain. But prosecutors also offered medical testimony that the restraint of McClain by Aurora officers Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt triggered a series of health problems that made it hard for McClain to breathe and more vulnerable to a fatal overdose.

Defense attorneys did not call any witnesses, instead using questions for prosecution witnesses to make their case that the officers did not cause McClain’s death.

Roedema and Rosenblatt are charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and second-degree assault — all felonies. An assault conviction carries the most serious penalty, up to 16 years in prison.

Officer Nathan Woodyard — whose trial starts Friday— was the first to stop McClain. Within 10 seconds, Woodyard put his hands on McClain and turned him around. As McClain tried to escape his grip, Woodyard said, “Relax, or I’m going to have to change this situation.”

The encounter quickly escalated, with Woodyard, Roedema and Rosenblatt taking McClain to the ground and Woodyard putting him in a neck hold by pressing against his carotid artery, temporarily rendering him unconscious. The officers later told investigators they took McClain down after hearing Roedema say, “He grabbed your gun dude.”

This moment can be heard but not seen on body camera video. The extensive video of the moments leading to his death were shown repeatedly to jurors.

Two paramedics, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, were also charged in McClain’s death and are scheduled to go on trial in November.

The local district attorney did not pursue criminal charges in 2019, but the case was re-examined in 2020 after Gov. Jared Polis asked state Attorney General Philip Weiser to investigate amid protests over police brutality against Black people following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Roedema and Woodyard are currently suspended without pay, Rosenblatt is the only officer involved in the incident who was fired — not for the fatal encounter itself, but for making light of other officers’ reenactment of the neck hold.

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Lawyers to deliver closing arguments in trial of 2 police officers charged in Elijah McClain’s death